Category Archives: October 2011


To grade or not to grade?

My class are in the midst of finishing various class tasks, taking end of year diagnostic tests, finishing off projects and the odd test too. The usual end of year routine for many schools. However we no longer grade any work in year 5, instead my co-teacher and I write extensive comments, designed to assist the student to reflect on their learning, to feel proud of their hard work and to always aim for improvement. To my mind whether a student is the brightest or slowest in the class they should always be aiming to improve.

So what is the talk in my room?
Mrs Miller when do we get our maths test back, I want to get my grade” My reply,”that was a diagnostic stage three test, no-one was expected to get everything correct and anyway its purpose is for me to help the year six teachers work out what areas of maths you are weak in“.

Mrs Miller what mark did I get for my writing task“. My reply “I have not given you a grade for a writing task all year and I don’t intend to start now, you need to read my comment“.

Mrs Miller how many mistakes did I make in the big spelling test” My reply “why do you care? I am only interested in if you can spell in your writing, not if you can memorise words for a spelling test”.

All this and more from a group of students who have had no grades given to them all year, apart from the usual weekly spelling tests and one ‘diagnostic’ maths test. I am continuously amazed at their desire for grades or for some of them, a positive need for grades. Why should this be, when they are only eleven? Is it because some of them are competitive and eager to win? Or that some of them have parental pressure to succeed? Perhaps some of them are hoping for a prize at the end of year?

Last year I was not ready to quit grading despite my unease about it. This year I am. This year I have decided to do something different. I have decided to ask them to help me decide on their final grades. During the next few weeks they will be filling folders with their work and I will be holding conferences with them. During this time I will ask them to assist me in creating their grades. I have been reading the work of Alfie Kohn especially his paper ‘The case against grades‘ as well as a bloggers I regularly follow Pernille Ripp from America and Canadian educator Joe Bower . I have decided that if they can do it so can I.

Interestingly to grade or not to grade was a major topic at this weeks TeachMeet Hills. I suspect I may not be alone in feeling that to spend all year not giving grades and then to spoil it all at the last minute by creating one just to fill a report box is wrong.

e-lit update 015 2011

AIS Leaders Conference

Once again I find myself using this space to complement a presentation I am giving. I apologise if much of what I am writing appears familiar to my regular readers. Since however my presentation is on the merits of class and student bloggers, please bear with me.

Perhaps you would like to add a comment to this post with further links or your thoughts on the merits of student blogging? Or your experiences of using edmodo in your classroom?

This post has been designed to supplement my presentation for The AIS leaders Conference. To be held on Monday October 31 2011.

Preparing students for their future not your past through the integration of web 2.0 tools, with an emphasis on edmodo and student blogging.

My students are lucky enough to have a netbook each to use this year. Besides that we have a flip camera and access to several microphones. We do not have any i-pads or i-pods. We use many of the usual software programs such as  the Microsoft suite, including Microsoft Word, Power Point, Excel and OneNote. We use the SMART notebook software, so that students can create their own IWB files. We also teach them Scratch, Photoshop, photo-story and more.

I am a strong believer in using tools to support my program and their learning rather than just for the sake of it. The web 2.0 tools I am recommending here do, in my opinion, fulfil that requirement.

We use the Microsoft suite for word processing and data organisation.
We use OneNote to organise our research, ensuring student note take and do not plagiarise, a problem that occurs even in year 5.
We create audio files using audacity.
We connect with students around the globe using edublogs
We discuss our work, share links, display our learning and much more using edmodo
We learn, play games, learn words and take spelling tests in Spelling City
We play learning games through scootle.
We learn mathematics using Mathletics and Study ladder and nrich mathematics
We create picture books using Story Jumper
We create interactive posters and presentations using glogster or prezi
We reflect on our learning using Memiary
We share using skype to connect with students around the globe
We use Ustream to show to our community drama productions and recitals
We research using Google and other search engines such as duck duck go, ensuring our students have a good working knowledge of its advanced search features and creative commons licensing.
We direct student research using a static webpage of selected links built in Weebly.
We watch videos to aid our learning via Teacher Tube and U-tube
We create our own movies to display our knowledge using SMART notebook software and Windows movie maker
We create slide shows to display our learning using photopeach and
We create surveys using survey monkey
We collaborate on note taking using Google docs
We use our school
moodle account to create courses in.

Oh and we also hand write using pen and paper and we have even been know to read real books too!

By far the most important to us is edmodo and our class blog year 5rc off of which can be found many of our excellent student blogs.

To learn more about the uses of edmodo I recommend you check out this Edmodo Guide from Patrick Cauley at it can be found here. Patrick has given me full permission to share his excellent guide with you. If you find it helpful, please respond with thanks to Patrick’s blog.

As far as class blogging is concerned, there are many different blogging platforms. In my class I use edublogs. Edublogs are an Australian company with excellent support and advice. Another company that some schools like to use is kidsblog.

I personally believe that we need to teach our students to create a real and honest digital footprint. I am convinced that they will create one over time whether their teachers or parents want them to anyway. I am sure that it is far better to start early and to teach them how to be safe. Than to attempt to block, filter and close our eyes to what they get up to. In my classroom we use the secure on-line discussion forum of edmodo as an ‘in-house’ filtering system and we allow them to make mistakes in it. We use our class and student blogs to display our public face.

I am aware that many school leaders and teachers have concerns about student blogging, so I have included some excellent posts here which delve into the merits of student blogging. What I do I know, is that in my classroom the bloggers are motivated and interested in writing for an authentic audience. That they get a sense of purpose and excitement knowing that others besides their teacher and peers are reading what they are writing. That watching their flag counters rise gives them a thrill. And yes, being allowed to choose widgets and coloured backgrounds is also fun.

I would like to encourage you to please read 20 reasons why students should blog by Anne Murcha. Or why blog with students by Adrian Bruce.  There is also an interesting wiki with loads of information called Support Blogging. These three sites should be able to answer most of your questions and allay many of your fears about blogging with students. Edublogs an Australian blogging platform has just reached 1 million blogs. Read more about it here. Australian librarian Jenny Luca too has written a really convincing post six reasons why kids should know about blogging.I came across this excellent blog written by a student teacher called Zoe with many references to research articles supporting classroom blogging.

Zoe quotes “Blogging can potentially provide students with a window into peers’ perspectives, a doorway to a global audience, and a mirror though which to reflect on their own thinking and writing”
(Ellison & Wu, 2008: 119). I would definitely agree with this perspective.

If you are interested in viewing some of the excellent class blogs from around Australia please check out this earlier post.

Many teachers will argue that running a class blog takes up valuable time. I would argue that to not run one deprives students of an authentic and real audience. An audience who will be interested in what is going on in your classroom. The time it takes can and should be viewed as part of a classroom literacy block. To write a post on my class blog takes me or my co-teacher mere moments of time. I can even do it from my phone while on excursions. We also view it as a vital and necessary part of our communication with parents and the wider community.

I believe in modelling by example, about learning with my students and about creating my digital footprint as a reflection of myself as a learner and a teacher.


Planning and Sharing with Social Media

My team teaching buddy is sick. Poor Pru has not made it back to school this term and although she is on the mend she will not be accompanying our class to Bathurst next week. This annual one night excursion is for most of our students the highlight of our inquiry unit, ‘What was life like in the goldfields?’ and ‘How did the Australian gold rush impact on Australia as a nation?’ Discussions as to what to wear, how much luggage to bring, who to share a room with and most importantly will they make their fortune panning for gold have been filling our classrooms this week.

Yet despite Pru’s absence her presence in the planning, delivery and excursion has and will be felt. Using the obvious text messages and emails we have planned the reminders we needed to give to the students, checked the days activities and allocated students to rooms together. Since I know her students as well as she does, due to our team teaching approach, I have been aware of those who might be just a little worried about sleeping away from home. I have been able to communicate with her parents and all our pre-excursion lessons and pre-excursion planning has run really smoothly despite her absence.

Yet this year we are taking this planning and communication one step further. During the excursion I will be using social media to update Pru and our parent body on the excitement of ‘life on the goldfields’. I have created a new Twitter account @rosevilletweets and a new instagram account Roseville Junior School. I have installed the word press app on my phone and added our year5rc blog to it. This morning I tested my own audio boo account, so as to ensure I understood just how to use it too. I plan to take photographs on my phone and Tweet and post them to Instagram. I plan to get students to regularly  record audio boos during the trip. I plan to write a blog post while on the bus and add photographs as we move. We will certainly be telling the world about our trip.

The really exciting thing for me though is that all this social media action has been encouraged ‘by the powers that be at my school’ . Why? Because they too along with many of our staff are finally seeing the merits of Twitter. They too are embracing all that it can offer in learning and sharing. All I need now is for the parent body to catch up, for more of them to follow @rosevilletweets so that they too can share in the excitement and learning that will take place on our excursion to Bathurst.

My one fear? That there will be no mobile reception where we are staying. Now that really would interfere with my plans!

Image thanks to


Learning with BTN

Behind The News is an Australian student current affairs program produced by the ABC. It can be watched on the television or directly from the BTN website. it has been a long tradition at my school for Year 5 students to watch BTN on a Friday afternoon. In the five years I have taught year 5 it has always been a highlight. A  chance to relax, watch, discuss and enjoy a quality news program together before the weekend starts.

From a teaching perspective I love the way the Behind The News producers work hard to make even the dullest or most difficult to grasp issues interesting to students. Today my students were grappling with excessive food wastage in Australian households, the AFL draft, protests in America over excessive Wall Street profits and new rules that will allow female Australian soldiers to fight alongside their male counterparts. All great stories and all filled with great discussion points.

Today I thought I would share with you some of the ways I have been using BTN to assist students in Year 5 learn this year.

  • We have had weeks where we have just watched BTN, pausing for the quizzes, taking a vote and cheering when miraculously we were all correct.
  • We have had weeks where for one or two of the stories different students have had to take bullet point notes, in a book by hand and at the end of the session we have looked at and discussed the note taking with the whole year group.
  • We have had weeks where every student had to take bullet point notes using a notebook or a netbook, which ever they felt most comfortable with. I have collected these notes and used them to inform me on who can cope with watching, listening and note-taking. Not an easy skill for ten year olds.
  • We have also had weeks where I have set up a google doc, divided it into three columns and asked three students to take note-take, each one using a different column. This has been a great way to view different student perspectives on the same story.

Taking notes has always provided lots of discussion points and many heated and interesting chats have been had as a result.

For the past few weeks though, I have been trying something a little different. I have been using a pack of cards. On every card I have placed a sticker with the students’ name on it. I sit with the students shuffling the cards in my hand and at several points in the show I pause, pluck a card from the pile and ask that student to describe the story so far. Once the discussion is underway I choose another student and ask them what they think, do they agree or disagree with the viewpoints raised so far?  Do they have something to add to the discussion? As I continue to pose questions and draw out cards, I refuse to ask students who have their hands up. In my opinion it is always the same students who do this, their voices are heard enough. Gradually my students are beginning to realise that when I have my cards in my hands there is no point putting up their hands.  The quiet ones are realising that they may be asked to comment and those at the back are realising that they do indeed need to listen. Gradually the conversations are deepening and the thinking developing among all the students.

I am beginning to think that my pack of cards is one of the simplest and yet most useful tools of my trade. Where did I think of this idea? I didn’t, someone else did and they shared it and I read about it. I am now sharing it with you, in case you did not read about it the first time around.

Sharing, learning, growing.


It’s All About Relationships

I spent two days last week at a conference, one day of which I blogged about here. While the conference itself was a great opportunity to update skills and learn new things, once again the best part of it was meeting fellow tweeters, catching up with old friends and building relationships with fellow educators. This opportunity does not come very often and for some teachers possibly never. So a big thank you must go to the See Share Shape’ organisers who provided us with this opportunity for free.

The best part about these two days was however that I was not alone. I was lucky enough to go to this conference with five other staff members from my school. That represented nearly half our junior school staff. At least two others were following along the day’s tweet stream #seeshareshape. Others would have been there I know but for holidays, wedding planning and sickness. I have never been to an event with so many other teachers from my school before and it certainly made for powerful learning and powerful connections. I am sure we would all agree that we will return to school next week better for having spent time tweeting, sharing, eating and talking together. Particularly because it was at an event that was not at our school. The opportunity to also meet with other teachers we only know through twitter was great too. Interestingly as we were networking, learning and sharing together, so too were a group of Melbourne based educators as they held the first ever TeachMeet Melbourne. If you could not make that meeting they have created a fabulous wiki based bank of resources already. Great work Melbourne!

To my mind as we were all joining together, whether in Melbourne, at the conference, or at home, we were all busy building relationships. Busy building relationships that will help to connect and bind us as teams. Whether they are school based teams, district based teams or twitter based teams. A team that works together, learns and shares together has to be a powerful force for change. And that again is at the core. For the sake of the future and all the students in our schools, teachers have to grow, teachers have to learn, teachers have to change, to develop and become 21st century educators.

Teachers who do this while in teams will not only be powerful forces for change. Together they will have much more fun doing it, than if they tried to run solo.


Holiday Learning

Sub title:- A post for Pru

I have spent today with a great group of educators at The Smart Teachers Conference, a fabulous free two day conference put on for all NSW teachers by electroboard. I have listened, learned, absorbed, tweeted and discussed a great deal of information. But my grade buddy and friend has appendicitis and so had to be content with watching the flow of tweets from her bedside. So while I relax with a cup of tea (once an English tea drinker, always an English tea drinker) I am going to attempt to describe bits about that day for her.

It opened with a panel discussion. ‘Digital Education Making Change Happen’- learning in a digital world. Did you know that students can generally be classified into one of  four types of digital learners? Digital Pioneers, Creative producers, Everyday communicators and Information gatherers. Yet 52% of students are inactive. The reality of our students lives is though, that parents today really have no idea what their students are up to on the internet at home. It falls to us teachers to teach them what counts as ‘real’ information. We must continue to teach them how to create a digital footprint that will do them credit not damage.  Luckily I think we are on the right track with our use of edmodo and our class blog. I was then reminded once again that I really must complete the Quest Atlantis training when I viewed some great student work from a local high school. Finally we had a session was on Copyright Issues for Australian Schools I’m sorry I tuned out here a bit but I saved the link for later :).

I then took part in an advanced SMARTboard session which was great. I was reminded how to add sound files to notebook pages, how to use the video recorder and page recorder. I learned about the difference between wmv files and MP3 files. And how SMART notebook needs to have MP3 files.We discussed how the SMART recorder can be used by the students to create files for assessment purposes. The best part though was learning how to use the transparency tool to overlay on a webpage and how to create annotations while viewing a movie. I can already picture using that. After that I took a session on creating SMART movies from the fabulous macICT group, with details of a movie making competition our students can enter. The slide share from that session can be found here.Thanks to Concetta for sharing it.

Finally we had the chance to listen to the as always, wonderful Stephen Heppell as he challenged us to consider the learning spaces our students work in. He urged us to use the rule of thirds in our classroom, so as to create three focal points.  To build learning spaces that are fun and engaging for the students, such as the one he referenced where every surface could be written on, which had mood lighting and was so fun to be in that the students broke into it in the holidays!

He urged us to get rid of shoes, that boys somehow store testosterone in their shoes! You can imagine some of the tweets with that one. To ditch the timetable and teach one subject all day and a different one the next day. To get rid of ‘can’t do’ signs and create classrooms full of ‘can do’ praise. To differentiate our furniture as well as our programs. To get rid of  the SMARTboard, not sure that was a great move at a SMARTboard conference! As always he was insightful and inspiring.

He also said ‘ the best ideas are those we swap with each other‘.

I will be back tomorrow to listen, learn, tweet, meet and greet. I’m sorry that you cannot do so too but with several TeachMeets planned for next term and TMMelbourne happening tomorrow, I am secure in the knowledge that we are all already swapping the best ideas with each other.


reading groups term 2 010

ASLA11 – Using blogging and edmodo in the classroom and library

This post has been designed to supplement my presentation for the Australian School Librarian Conference  on Tuesday October 4.

Communicating for the 21st century: using tools such as Edmodo and student blogs to connect students with an authentic worldwide audience.

During my presentation we will be logging on and checking out edmodo as well as looking at some of the excellent classroom and school librarian blogs that are being created in Australia these days.

Edmodo home page can be found here. Please log into or join edmodo, we will be using this code  37eebk so you can enter a group I have set up for us to use today. Please take a moment to answer my questions and introduce yourselves to your fellow participants. Pru Thomas will be waiting to greet you from her sick bed. If you are interested in joining more edmodo groups such as the Teacher Librarian Edmodo group or The Oz edmodo group please check out this post by Bianca Hewes.

Once you return to your school and wish to find out more, the edmodo help section can be found here with their excellent range of help video tutorials and PDF guides.

An Edmodo Guide from Patrick Cauley at can be found here. Patrick has given me full permission to share his excellent guide with you. If you find it helpful, please respond with thanks to Patrick’s blog.

We will now also consider blogging. There are many different blogging platforms. In my class I use edublogs. Edublogs are an Australian company with excellent support and advice. Another company that some schools like to use is kidsblog. WordPress a popular blogging platform has joined with microsoft to produce this helpful guide at the site Office in Education

Since we only have a short time frame to discuss many of the concerns teachers have about blogging. I have included some excellent posts which delve into the merits of student blogging. I know that in my classroom the bloggers are motivated and interested in writing for an authentic audience. They are building connections with other like minded students around the globe and starting to create powerful learning networks. For more information please read 20 reasons why students should blog by Anne Murcha. Or why blog with students by Adrian Bruce.  There is also an interesting wiki with loads of information called Support Blogging. These three sites should be able to answer most of your questions and allay many of your fears about blogging with students. Edublogs an Australian blogging platform has just reached 1 million blogs. Read more about it here.

Australian librarian Jenny Luca has also recently written a really convincing post six reasons why kids should know about blogging.

There are students and teachers blogging all around the world. Since we are in Australia I think it only fair that we showcase what is happening in an increasing number of Australian schools.

Class Blogs-

Below you will find a small selection of primary class blogs from around Australia. Each one of these class blogs will have a blogroll, with links to further class blogs from around Australia and the world.

Learning together - Prep in Melbourne

Kindergarten red Miss Elliot’s Kindergarten class

Year1rc year 1 in Sydney

2km and 2kj at Leopold Primary School year 2 in Victoria

The superblog of awesomeness Year 3 in Sydney

Sammy the Seagull Year 4 in Victoria

Room9 year 5 in Adelaide

year5rc my class blog in Sydney

Triple A blog year 6 in Sydney

Room 13 year 6 and 7 sharing their learning in South Australia

Librarian Blogs

I love to read other educator’s blogs, as I find I learn so much through reading them. I have included here a few of the many outstanding  librarian blogs from around Australia.

I am indebted to Carmel Galvin from Sydney – Library Currants  together with Jenny Luca a librarian from Victoria Lucacept – Intercepting the web who passed on most of these fabulous librarian blog addresses to me.

Tania Sheko Learning Enhancement Coordinator and  teacher librarian in Melbourne.- Brave new World.
Camilla Elliott a teacher librarian – Edubeacon
Karen Powers a teacher librarian – BigBookcase
Judith Way a secondary school librarian from Melbourne- The Way Forward
Kim Yeomans from the LRC Blog at St Martin of Tours in Melbourne
Stacey from a girl’s secondary school in Sydney – Librarians are go
Marita Thompson from The King’s School Sydney - Storylines
Audrey Nay from Coffs Harbour LLL4LLL
Dianne McK an Australian living and working in Hong Kong – Library Grits

I also recommend you listen to this podcast from the edtechcrew, in which they interview teacher librarian Dr Joyce Valenza. In her interview she talks extensively about trans-literacy and her ideas on the methods she uses for curate information as a teacher librarian. She also makes a compelling case for the creation of a positive student digital footprint. The podcast link also includes links to many of Joyce’s websites.

I have included my prezi, in case you are interested in sharing it further.